You’ve had a rough day. Nothing has gone smoothly and you’re relaxing with some coffee or wine and brain dead television. Then the phone rings. Seeing it’s a close friend, you answer, hoping for some giggles, gossip and a good schmooze. You say hello and then she hits you with the four most toxic, dangerous words ever compiled into a coherent sentence : ” I need a favor.” You begin to break out in a sweat, sigh, and of course step up. “Sure thing” you answer, not even thinking about it. It’s in your very nature, ingrained in your heart; be kind to all, especially those close to you. “No sweat,” you reply again, and then you need to break out your battle gear. Arm yourself, and sit back for the ride.
Helping a friend is almost always an automatic “yes” in our books. Once you accept the challenge, you wander around your place remembering all the things you forgot. A deadline, a vacation, or a holiday preparation that you’ve neglected. You start to wonder how you can morph into Superwoman and what to tackle first. You wonder about all those self-help articles about multitasking. This is a problem. It’s right there in plain sight, but like that movie protagonist, you don’t see it until it’s way too late. You overextend yourself, allow the bait of friendship and cameraderie to overtake all rational thought. You continue on this path of self destruction because like that horror heroine you cannot see the overall implications.
As always, I need to learn things the hard way. Helping people, while honorable and sometimes charitable, can be detrimental to your life. It’s that feeling after you’ve promised to be there and help out, that you realized you should never have accepted. Guilt does not allow you to renege. It’s a miserable feeling that can sap all your energy and motivation, and add more to your already overloaded schedule. Every “yes” is like a tiny glass marble, the more you add to the jar, the more you’ll feel the weight, and it eventually interferes with your life.
Human nature is to say yes to others in need. However, when you offer freely and with your whole heart to help others solve their issues, you neglect to consider yourself. You have lacked a consideration of your time, energy and sometimes leads you down a risky path. When someone asks for a favor, it calls to your softer side- your caring, giving nature. The problem is, even close friends can take advantage of you – a pro bono advisor who will stick their neck out for them. But, it can hurt to help others.
After some deep thought (yeah, that insomnia in action again) I realize that helping others, in general, has a certain subtlety. Let me elaborate. I think there are two distinct categories of need.
- A Friend in Need: This is the friend who truly needs your help. They are in trouble financially, need help finding employment, or need life advice. This is the person who has nobody to turn to and their life is falling to pieces.
- A Friend In Deed.: This is all the leftover crap. (Sorry, no other word suits here.) These are colleagues, people who would use you more for a luxury than a favor. If you don’t help,them, nothing earth shattering will happen in their world. Be liberal with saying “NO” here.
So what’s the monkey wrench in the tool box? Social ties.
As humans, we are not robots. We have emotions and connections because most of us are social creatures. (Some of us need to learn to stick with our own demons, it’s safer.) Naturally we want to help close friends and family, after all, aren’t we supposed to tend each other’s needs?
So … To help or not to help, that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in thy mind to suffer the anger and accusations of friends for not offering your time, or to take arms against the favors, and by opposing them, end them. (Thanks Will, it resonates)
When you offer yourself to others, people will see you as an easy mark. If you learn to look after yourself, be selective in your “YES” answers to “do me a favor,” others will get the message. You are not a pushover and you will not feel entrapped and endangered by the consequences of favors. I’m not saying you should step back and never help those in need, but don’t let helping others become a liability. If you take anything away from these ramblings today, let it be this: Just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.
Helping others should be a careful balancing act that leaves you feeling at peace. It should not leave you with agita.
Tell me about a time you overextended yourself or helped someone and it harmed you, or affected your life. All comments answered with alacrity, honesty and virtual coffee hugs. ☕️